Digital Detox: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 05, 2023
5 min read

Do you often find yourself glued to your smartphone screen and scrolling endlessly as chunks of time slip away? You’re not alone. Research shows that about 61% of people admit they’re addicted to the internet and their digital screens.

Worse, that constant connection can also take a toll on your quality of life and overload your senses. That’s why taking a break from your numerous social media apps and some time away from screens could help be good for your mental and physical health.

And that’s where a digital detox comes in. This is a period of time during which you intentionally reduce the amount of time you spend online on your devices. You may even opt to disconnect completely.

One study found that around 25% smartphone owners between ages 18 and 44 don’t remember the last time their phone wasn’t right next to them.

All that time online can cause:

Experts also found that heavy smartphone use can cause changes in your brain. Every scroll or swipe sends a hit of dopamine to the same areas of your brain that respond to addictive and dangerous drugs like cocaine.

Unplugging yourself from your devices or making the effort to use them less can help improve your quality of life by helping you:

Calm down and feel content. Several social experiments found that taking a scheduled break away from your smartphone or digital device can lower your stress levels. It can also help you focus on the present and pay more attention to things around you.

Be more productive. Scrolling, liking, posting, or just surfing the internet can be time consuming. It can leach time away from your responsibilities. Setting your phone aside will help you focus on things you need to get done.

Feel better about yourself. Social media apps lead you to compare yourself with others constantly. That can affect how you see yourself. Cutting back on phone time can boost your self-image and esteem.

Get healthier. Staying glued to your smartphone for several hours can lead to eye strain, dry eyes, blurry vision, teary eyes, and headaches. You may also hunch over as you look down at the phone or screen. This can cause lower back and neck problems. Disconnecting can provide relief to various parts of your body.

Sleep better. When your body knows it’s time for sleep, your brain releases a chemical called melatonin to help you relax and drift off. Staring at your phone right before bed keeps your brain alert and active and delays that melatonin release. Lack of sleep over a long period of time can affect your mood and health. A digital detox can help your body better control your sleep cycles.

If you think tech use is affecting your physical and mental well-being, taking time away from things you need to get done, or both, it may be time for a digital detox. You don’t have to quit your devices altogether -- just do what works best for your lifestyle.

This could mean setting your phone aside for a few hours every now and then, exploring how much you really need to use it or disconnecting completely from the internet for a day or more.

To get started on your digital detox:

Pay attention to your emotion when you use your phone. Be mindful of your phone use to better understand the relationship you have with your device. Ask yourself why you’re using your phone at different times.

Is it boredom? Do you need it for work? Do you feel like you’re missing out on what others have? Does checking your phone make you feel better or worse? Experts say getting a better sense of your emotions can help you control your phone use better. If it’s taking a toll, try to cut back on the amount of time you use it every day.

Schedule a break from your phone. If you’re obsessively using your smartphone and you suspect addictive behavior, one way to detox would be to block out time intervals to check your phone. For example, try to check your phone only every 15 or 30 minutes.

Experts say an easy rule to follow would be to keep your phone away during mealtimes. This can help you focus on surroundings. If you have a hard time resisting your phone, try to keep it out of sight in a different room or out of easy reach so you can focus on your food. Or you could set times that you won’t use it, like when you’re out for a walk, at a social gathering, or after a certain hour at night.

Use apps to track your usage. Want to track how much you use your phone daily? If your phone can’t do it for you, there’s an app for that. Some apps can also block your access to social media sites for period of time or give you a detailed report on what you’re spending too much time on. This can help limit your reliance on your phone and take back some control.

Disconnect at night before bedtime. Since phone use can disrupt your sleep patterns, try to disconnect or switch off your phone before your go to bed or set a time like 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. to unplug. This will help you get into routine to go to bed and improve sleep.

Turn off notifications. If you find yourself responding to every text alert, email, or ping from your social media apps, it may be a good idea to shut off the notifications in your phone settings. This can help curb the urge to respond to every noise it makes. You can also try the do not disturb function.

If you feel like your smartphone addiction is disrupting your day-to-day life and you’re unable to take back control or unsure how to get started, talk to your doctor or a therapist. They may help you come with solutions that work best for your lifestyle.